&Open Aug 23, 2019
Sometimes you stumble upon a brand that’s both beautiful and fundamentally changing the way our world works—like EVERYBODY.WORLD, an LA-based fashion brand that prioritises worker equity and the environment to create a new and healthy business model.
We spoke with co-founders (and former American Apparel employees) Iris Alonzo and Carolina Crespo on their innovative approach to an otherwise unsustainable industry.
&Open: What makes EVERYBODY.WORLD unique is that sustainability and labor equity are baked into your business. Why have those elements been central from the beginning?
EVERYBODY.WORLD: Fashion is the second most polluting industry on the planet, but because it’s creative, people think it’s frivolous—they don’t realise the huge, negative impact it has environmentally. So when we launched two and a half years ago, our purpose was to manufacture useful goods without exploiting people or the planet in the process. That was our main mission, and we started by re-approaching the most ubiquitous item we could imagine, which was the white T-shirt in 100% recycled cotton.
&O: What makes your approach different from the rest of the industry’s?
EW: Well, we changed the way products were approached entirely. We wanted them to be ethically produced and thoughtful in their intent, purpose and lifecycle. For the T-shirt specifically, people had used a portion of recycled cotton and polyester—but polyester is plastic and makes the fabric non-biodegradable. We asked ourselves, ‘how long should this T-shirt last?’ Hopefully it’s a lifetime, so we make things with that in mind. We think about how it could end up in a thrift store and loved by someone else 50 or 70 years later. Or, the worst case scenario, where it ends up in landfills and biodegrade into the soil after a few years. We apply the same principles to manufacturing everything from shoes to paper products that are biodegradable.
&O: Aside from the lack of sustainability, fashion is notorious for its poor working conditions and wages too, right?
EW: Our other business component is equity in the workplace. Over time, it’s become that the person making the good—the garment worker—is the least valued person in the entire process, which is why we have people globally working in slave-like conditions for pennies on the hour. That perpetuates disparity between human beings, and we have to evolve beyond that. All of our factories are in the United States—from the farms where cotton is grown to the factory that dyes the t-shirts—and every person is paid a living U.S. wage with $12.50 an hour in Los Angeles compared to .20 cents in Bangladesh. People in the factory are buying cars of their dreams, they’re buying houses, renting apartments, providing for their families. Knowing that and realising we’re part of that is important. We have to even things out.
Every single party in the process of consumption really needs to think through what we’re consuming, why we’re consuming it, and if it’s the best thing we should consume.
&O: Why does sustainability in businesses feel pertinent for so many models now?
EW: There’s so much happening on the planet and with manufacturing. There are too many people and too much stuff being made to not be more thoughtful as a manufacturer or a consumer. Every single party in the process of consumption really needs to think through what we’re consuming, why we’re consuming it, and if it’s the best thing we should consume. Not everyone has that luxury, but in the world we’re currently working in, everyone is making a choice. No longer is it acceptable for a brand to order a bunch of plastic on the internet that slap their logo on it. That thought process is really outdated. Okay, you made a tote bag: it’ll be on the planet for thousands of years before it disappears. The beauty is that making changes that can have environmental impact isn’t that hard.
&O: What’s unique about your collections is that you have guest designers create products for you. Why do you prioritise collaboration when it comes to design?
EW: Since we’re both product developers and not clothing designers, we invited friends and family to design something, then we shared the profits with them. Pretty quickly, we realised that could be a business model. We asked individuals to design the one piece missing in their wardrobe, then we manufacture them using those principles around worker’s ecology and ideas—and then give them 10% of each sale for the lifetime of the product.
For more background, while we worked at American Apparel, people would say to us, “Oh, you know what you should make?” Then we would do it—and we would sell something like $10 million of scrunchies. We want people to be recognised and compensated for their ideas, and if we can make something in an equitable way, where the factory workers are making money and the planet is taken care of and the customer can get something they love at a good value and the person who came up with the idea has a supplementary income that’s excited because everyone in the process is accounted for and really no one loses at the end of the day.